Saturday, June 24, 2006

The fictional black hole

Perhaps by coincidence, I have been reading two trilogies that are each only two-thirds complete. Both consist of long individual novels, never short of 350 pages each. Despite this, it has not been hard work. One soon sinks into the narrative, though neither could be said to be rollercoaster rides, but you already know I like it that way. The pleasure is the descent into deep silence; fathoms from anywhere, as Beckett described it.

However, after reading these novels and trying to recall the details, to sort out the facts, the characters, the digressions and the anecdotes, the sort of thing one imagines make each unique, I was left almost blank. It took a lot of work (notetaking, re-reading) to retrieve an account for an audience. All that's left in my memory after hours and hours of patient reading is the general movement of the story, the sense of its created world, the taste of its atmosphere: in fact, just the reading experience.

But isn't that just more or less everything? It is probably why I am attached to some short stories or novellas as much as I am to standard length novels. They are, in effect, all the same length; they take up the same amount of memory space.

If it's easy to dismiss utilitarian dismissals of the novel ("Oh yes, well of course film is the most popular art form of our time"), it's less easy to find time to read enough to remain in touch with a community (of readers) - albeit a contrived one - mainly because there are so many novels and so many are so long. And they have to be long to be considered ambitious. Yet perhaps it would be more ambitious to write shorter.

Maybe, even, a different type of fiction is required. If it is possible, then our conceptions of the novel and the short story might need to be rethought in order to notice. Toward this end, I'd point toward Spurious' vertiginous angle on fiction in its meditation on Blanchot's theory of the récit, "a literary genre which tells of a single event".
The récit allows the event to complete itself, to be brought to form only as its narrative form is unjoined from itself. One might say (rather pretentiously) it is a kind of non-event that happens as the récit - and the non-event that spreads everywhere, devouring plot, character and the rest, like a black hole that turns at the heart of the book.
One might say that, but apparently it's much more complex.

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